Every year, the Houston Rockets turn out to be deeper than they looked. Whether the bench depth is Jordan Hill, Chuck Hayes, Kyle Lowry or Courtney Lee, throughout Daryl Morey’s reign as general manager, the Rockets always seem to find hidden gems. Terrence Jones may be the rightful recipient of praise right now, but he’s not the biggest rescue project of the year. That distinction belongs to Omri Casspi, a man who looked close to sliding out of the league just last season. In Casspi, we get a glimpse of why this seems to happen every year.
The most important point to make is that Omri Casspi is much better this season. The sample size is a mere twenty games, but it’s clear that something is different. He’s shooting 7% better on three pointers this season than over his career. His overall shooting is 4% better and he’s scoring another point per game on the same number of shots. all of his peripherals have notable upgrades, with the only exception of a slightly higher turnover rate. Casspi has become a useful member of the team, something that escaped him for years in Cleveland.
As a veteran minimum pickup, Casspi has been well worth his salary. At 25 years old, Casspi has his best years ahead of him, and is showing that those years are of use to a Houston team trying to compete for a championship right away. With a three point stroke, the height to play spot minutes as a power forward and a willingness to attack the basket, he’s a useful bench player for a team that needs it. With such a marked turnaround, especially by way of the eye test, what did Houston do to get this renaissance from someone who looked on the fringes of the NBA?
As with most player resurrection stories, Casspi has largely benefited from a system that better uses his talents. Free of the larger expectations and starter role he previously wore, he’s now able to feast on reserve lineups in Houston, something with helps and player look better. Even when he’s facing starters, he’s better able to capitalize on his abilities, primarily those of spotting up for three pointers and cutting to the basket. His defense may not be good enough to assign him the popular “3 and D” label, but the 3 is there without a doubt.
While Casspi’s redemption is one of the happier stories around the league, he’s by no means the first player Houston has dusted off and picked up. Daryl Morey has effectively made a career out of finding players who’ve flagged in other situations but picked it back up in Houston. Casspi’s co-worker, Aaron Brooks, is another example of this phenomenon. After a couple fantastic years in Houston, Brooks lost his starting job to Kyle Lowry and was eventually traded for Goran Dragic. Brooks fell off the national radar along with his stats while he played in Phoenix, but has looked increasingly like the player who won Most Improved Player a few years ago.
Kevin Martin may be the most well-known example of Houston finding a player on the slide and giving them a more successful situation, but he’s not the best example. Somehow, James Harden may be the best instance of Morey trusting a player to be worth more than his contract. On the Oklahoma City Thunder, Harden was well known as a master sixth man, a substitute extraordinaire. The data turned out to be accurate, and Harden grew his game to fit his role and is now in the conversation for top-five players. And therein lies the crux of Casspi’s success.
Of all his abilities, Morey’s most impressive might be his ability to scout talent.
Morey’s way of filling out a roster is to find players who excel and one or two things but have been in situations which depressed their abilities. Many of these players, like Casspi, are just glad to have a second chance and happily sign up with the Rockets. It’s no coincidence that Francisco Garcia took a lower contract to be back with the team right after his quality showing in the playoffs. Morey often uses the phrase “market inefficiencies” to describe these incorrectly-used castoffs. Daryl rarely whiffs on a role player because he understands that not all players need all skills, and that in the NBA, players are easier to replace than it seems like.
Eventually we’ll all stop being shocked when the Rockets field a high-level bench unit. Omri Casspi might not be the star of the show, but he got his groove back, and even got to meet President Barack Obama. The main question is: who will be next to reboot his career?